British pubs are closing at a rate of 18 per week, and it's all our own fault. We're buying cheap beers at the supermarket and drinking them in the lonely silence of our own homes, rather than drowning ourselves in alcohol in public. The result is that thousands of local institutions are no more. With this column, The Pubituary, we'll be paying homage to some of those fallen heroes.
The Dyke, Brighton (1895 – September, 2018)
According to local legend, the Dyke pub – opened in 1895 – was haunted by a "Grey Lady" who moved objects around and cut off the beer supplies. Now, the Dyke – having been put to rest at the grand old age of 113 – will become nothing but a local legend itself.
The pub was originally closed back in 2016. Last month, it was sold to property developers who planned to turn it into a supermarket, but the deal seems to have fallen flat.
The pub attracted a fair few characters over the years, like Meghan the fire-thrower – remembered by local Alan Purton – who used to perform on Dyke Road post-shift. She's now somewhere in Switzerland. Or the late Tommy, remembered by Ian Fardell, who "didn't turn up for a few days, so we went round and knocked on his door, and he was quite ill. Without that pub, I never would've known."
Its recent history began when pub entrepreneur Martin Webb – who, pub quiz fans, used to present Risking It All for Channel 4 – took over The Dyke in 2010. "We made it really beautiful – it was sort of shabby chic, with lots of craft beers and great local wines," he told me, "and it worked for a while." Soon, though, it started to struggle: "The basic problems was the pub was way too big and the costs of running it way too high."
This led to Webb, in 2016, suddenly closing its doors, prompting a "Save the Dyke Pub" campaign, which picked up 1,700 signatures. Ian Fardell, who was also group secretary, remembers its closure: "They literally shut it overnight. They opened it up a day later as the Emporium of Treasure and Trash, a junk shop."
Here, it got messier. While the community tried to protect the pub as an Asset of Community Value and fundraised, Webb rejected the bids they supported.
Catherine Hill, who runs the online Save the Dyke group, said: "One of the reasons the pub was listed was for its original ornate bar. In between the inspection assessment by Historic England and the letter arriving, the owner [Webb] removed all the original features." Some ended up in the junk shop that replaced the Dyke, treasure lost among the trash.
Since 2010, Brighton has lost 20 of its pubs, with half of them sinking between 2016 and 2017. As well as higher taxes and fewer punters, even more worrying is the fact that the area's pubs are facing problems with homophobia. The loss of The Dyke specifically has left a void of pubs in the area. "There are pubs 20 minute walks away," local Pauline Jordan tells me, "but the old guys who used to go in can't now as they can't walk to the nearest pub. It's a disgrace."
Webb is insistent that the locals "voted with their feet" and that the Save the Dyke group are "fanatics" who "wanted to turn back history". But it seems wrong to discount the voices of nearly 2,000 locals. Regardless of whether a new pub will open, the original will be missed, its last orders gong echoing in locals' ears. As Fardell puts it: "It was the fabric of our community. Rome has its piazzas – we have our pubs."
The Dyke Tavern is survived by its 1,700 signatories and a fire-thrower in Switzerland.